Everywhere you look you see apps these days. Or more truthfully, you’ve been seeing them for ages already. Even in this blog I used the term “applification” over 2 years ago already, so it’s fair to say we’ve been living on the planet of apps for a long time by now. As catchy as those three letters are, the overuse of the term has some side effects that may lead to confusion when people refer to something as an “app”. With Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement (a.k.a. XRM), this danger is very real, since the term has been used in quite a carefree way when naming the different components found in the platform.
In this blog post I’ll try to provide some clarity for those that are less familiar with the various dimensions that a Dynamics 365 app can have. I will go through the places in which apps can be found and explain their intended usage scenarios. Then in a follow-up post I’ll dig deeper into the architecture of how apps relate to solutions and the XRM customization capabilities in the latest V9 version.
Since smartphones are to blame for the app craze, we might as well begin by doing a search in the iOS App Store. With the term “Dynamics 365” on my iPad I get a list of various different apps I could install on the device. The top there results present a row of apps from Microsoft, but they are all built on completely different architecture.
The first result named “Microsoft Dynamics 365” is the actual “CRM” app, meaning the one that’ll give you roughly the same features as you’ll find on Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement when accessed via a browser. Once the Unified Interface is fully developed, the mobile & the web will be almost identical, but currently it’s likely that you’ll see a somewhat different experience on mobile than what the browser UI looks like. You’ll find the app’s setup guide here.
The seconds result is “Dynamics 365 Unified Ops”. Yes, it’s also by Microsoft, even though the name doesn’t include the corporate brand this time. Now, if you’re looking for the CRM capabilities then don’t get mislead by the app’s description talking about mobilizing your business processes. This is the mobile ERP application and you’ll need the “cloud AX” environment to use it for anything. No, Dynamics 365 isn’t “unified” on the level yet that you’d have just one client for CRM & ERP, but most people probably wouldn’t need a phone app that huge anyway. If you’re into ERP, read more about the Unified Ops mobile app here.
The third result is “Field Service- Dynamics 365”. Although the app developer info on iOS says “Microsoft Corporation” this is actually the mobile app developed by Resco & licensed by Microsoft to be offered as a part of the Dynamics 365 for Field Service app license. It operates by connecting to the “CRM” instance and using its customer data, but the configuration is separate from the customizations you might have done to your Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement environment. The user guide for this app can be found here, while the customizers will find information about installing the Woodford solution for changing the app configuration here.
App for Outlook
For as long as Dynamics CRM has been around, the integration to Outlook has been one of its main selling points against alternative CRM products. The CRM Client for Outlook has served us well over the years but the time has come to lay it to rest and replace the Client with the App. The change is far more significant than what Microsoft’s product naming here would suggest, with “Dynamics 365 for Outlook” being the legacy client for your PC and “Dynamics 365 App for Outlook” referring to the lightweight app that will work on pretty much any device.
Unlike the mobile apps, the App for Outlook isn’t something that a normal end user can (typically) download and configure for themselves. A system administrator or system customizer must take care of the deployment steps, which may include switching over to server-side synchronization, approving user mailboxes (with O365 Global Admin rights) and finally pushing the app to either selected or all eligible users under the menu Settings – Dynamics 365 App for Outlook.
As of the first week of 2018, the Dynamics 365 App for Outlook in V9 is still in Preview mode, so a sysadmin needs to enable it from the System Settings – Previews tab. This is because the earlier app has been replaced with a completely new app in this release, built on UCI (Unified Client Infrastructure) that is used in the new Unified Interface. This will actually turn the previously feature limited Outlook sidebar app into a full Dynamic 365 Customer Engagement app that has similar capabilities as the mobile app mentioned above.
Dynamics 365 App Modules
When you’re logged in to Office 365 and you click on the Dynamics logo in the app launcher, you’ll be taken to the Dynamics 365 home page at home.dynamics.com. Depending on your environment’s configuration, you’ll see a few or a whole number of rectangular icons on this page. Those are all “apps”, but not like the previously described mobile or Outlook apps. More importantly, not all of them are necessarily Dynamics 365 Apps either. Huh?
The explanation is that the Dynamics 365 home page lists also your Office 365 tenant’s PowerApps apps (which probably should be just called “PowerApps” to make my head hurt less while reading that). Aside from those, the list will include apps from all across your Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement instances, so if you have sandboxes for development and testing purposes, the very same app name & description may appear here multiple times. Furthermore, if you’re also using the ERP side of Dynamics 365, the home pages covers them as well.
In the Customer Engagement world an app module is basically a subset of the components you can find within a single instance. It can include navigation, dashboards processes, entity views, forms and charts. Aside from a few app specific configuration items, it doesn’t really add anything that you wouldn’t have in the “full” XRM instance already. They are a way of controlling what contents of that particular instance is visible to the end user.
Each XRM instance has by default at least one app, which will be called “Dynamics 365 – custom” unless you rename it in the System Settings menu. In addition to this, there can be N apps built and configured via the App Designer, or provided as readymade apps from Microsoft, like Field Service in the screenshot. Both the old web apps and the new Unified Interface apps will be present here if your instance is V9+. With so much going on here, I personally try to avoid ever navigating to the Dynamics 365 Home page and just store the direct URLs in my browser’s bookmarks bar where I’m in total control of how the apps are named and organized neatly into folders.
If you feel like you don’t have enough apps on your Dynamics 365 Home page, you can click the “+” icon that says “Find more apps that work with Dynamics 365”. This will open a modal window of AppSource, filtered down to the apps that are designed for, integrated with and some even built on top of the Dynamics 365 platform. Many of these will be built by partners (ISVs) but some of the content is authored by Microsoft themselves, either as officially supported solutions like the Social Selling Assistant, or as “accelerator” style solutions from Microsoft Labs with no warranty or promise of future support like Attachment Management.
The AppSource apps are closest to the concept that the word “app” was associated with when the iPhone’s App Store was launched ten years ago. These may be small extensions to the common CRM feature set, like a Marketing Calendar component for visualizing campaign records, or integrations between Dynamics 365 and a standalone service like Adobe Sign. Just like in a smartphone app store, some items are completely free of charge while others will cost you dearly. Since we’re dealing with enterprise systems here instead of individual mobile devices, some services allow you to do a test drive in a sandbox completely isolated from your organization’s Dynamics 365 instances, like the CPQ solutions from Experlogix and PROS.
What can be confusing about AppSource in the Dynamics 365 context is that probably the majority of the apps available in AppSource will not actually result in a new app icon being added to your Dynamics 365 home page. This is because up until V9 and the Unified Interface there wasn’t really a proper presence for the App Module in the XRM platform, so the world is only slowly adjusting to this new reality. I’ll delve into this very topic in my next blog post.
Dynamics 365 App Licenses
The concept of an app exists not only in the visible UI and logical platform component containers but also in the contractual world of software licensing. If you go to the Dynamics 365 Pricing page and download the Licensing Guide PDF, you’ll see the detailed way in which the rights of a licensed App user are defined in relation to the features provided by the XRM platform. There are in total 176 occurrences of the word “application” in this document, so don’t expect a quick answer. However, since XRM still largely follows an “honor system” where it’s up to the system administrator to limit the security roles of a user to match those to the rights given to him or her via the assigned Dynamics 365 license type, you’re going to have to understand the concepts.
Even though you can purchase and assign a user a license for Dynamics 365 for Sales, i.e. an app license, this doesn’t mean that the only thing this user would see or would be legally allowed to access would be the Sales app icon on the Dynamics 365 home page. They can be allowed to view the entire contents of any XRM instance in that particular Office 365 tenant, thanks to the first row in the above table (“all Dynamics 365 Enterprise Edition data”). They could access the “Dynamics 365 – custom” app to look around the whole suite of features in Customer Engagement. They could leverage the Dynamics 365 App for Outlook to track emails to records. But if you misconfigure their security roles and allow them to track emails against case records (a Customer Service app feature), you are in breach of the licensing contract.
Alright, that’s about as many “app” mentions as I can reasonably fit within one blog post. Next time I will take a look at Apps from a system customizer perspective.